Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

Tour in Kingston

I went to Kingston yesterday to take part in two highly enriching meetings.

Firstly, I took part in the Leading Edge Practises in Bilingual Recruitment Conference. Close to a hundred representatives from designated agencies and other organizations and businesses of Kingston were in attendance.

The designation of the City of Kingston under the French Language Services Act was first announced in June 2006 and since May 1, 2009, all Ontario government offices located in Kingston offer French-language services.

In this context, I let my traditional discourse aside to speak more directly to people who work in the social and community services sector in this region and who take their clients’ needs to heart. I emphasized how crucial it is to offer French-language services actively, not only because organizations in Kingston must now do so – but also because these services contribute to the well-being and development of their community as a whole.

This event was also a great opportunity to put emphasis on the reasons why Ontario has the French Language Services Act and why it is crucial to offer French-language services, especially when these services are directed toward fragile population groups.

I wish to thank the Réseau régional de langue française du Sud-Est and its partners for taking the lead in organising this great event.

As part of this tour in Kingston, I also visited École secondaire publique Mille-Îles where I discussed the importance of French-language services with a dozen of 11th and 12th grade students. Students actively joined in the conversation and I wish to congratulate them for taking their linguistic rights and cultural heritage to heart. I also wish to thank Élaine Constant, Principal, for giving me the chance to see this brand new school.

I will soon be leaving for Ottawa to take part in some other events in the next few days, including a game against the National hockey league’s Greatest Stars, hosted by the Fondation franco-ontarienne (yes!). I am hoping I can make it back to Toronto in one piece! I will share with you my experience next week.

New Direction: Ontario’s Immigration Strategy

New Direction: Ontario’s Immigration Strategy

Great news: the government sets to achieve 5% Francophone immigration. This audacious target is an excellent news for Francophones, because it will certainly contribute to the vitality and development of the Francophone community.

In fact, the government has just published New Direction: Ontario’s Immigration Strategy. This initiative highlights a number of objectives such as increasing the proportion of economic immigrants for up to 70% or doubling of the Provincial Nominee Program limit to 2,000 in 2013.

In sum, this strategy has very interesting initiatives. This is particularly the case of the training with the aim to improve access to French and English language training programs. However, it remains, yet, to identify measures that will be implemented to achieve all targets since some of them are shared by the two levels of government especially in the selection and reception of immigrants.

Finally, it is important to note that this strategy also relies on collaboration both internally and outside of the government. The idea of establishing an annual Minister’s Table with employers to discuss immigration needs and challenges as well as creating an annual Ministers’ Forum to drive a “no wrong door” approach to immigrant services across government perfectly illustrates this mindset. Collaboration will also be necessary to ensure that both levels of government use the same criteria to define Francophones, i.e. Ontario’s Inclusive Definition of Francophone. To be continued.

Independence of the Commissioner: for Political Non-Interference

Assemblée législative de l'Ontario | Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Today, I would like to re-examine a significant change in 2007, that is, when the Legislative Assembly amended the French Language Services Act to create the position of Commissioner, and in turn the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner.

That was five years ago, at a time when the province’s legislators wanted to breathe new life into the Act in order to ensure that it would be fully complied with, and in particular to realize its two-fold objective of protecting Ontario’s Francophone minority and the advancement of French by means of promoting its equality to English, as described previously. The creation of this position was therefore largely perceived by the Franco-Ontarian community to be a necessary step in the right direction.

However, there was also some criticism in 2007, including by the official Opposition which, while happy about the appointment of the current Commissioner to that position, complained about the fact that he would report directly to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs and not to the Legislative Assembly, like other officers of Parliament. According to that criticism, this situation meant a lack of transparency, since the investigator was asked to report directly to the institution that could be the subject of his or her investigation.

The New Democratic Party subsequently made it a key issue and introduced Bill 193 in May 2011 and then Bill 49 in March 2012, to have the Commissioner report directly to the Legislative Assembly. This question was also raised during the campaign leading up to the election held in October 2011, and at that time the government did not shut the door on the possibility of granting the Commissioner real independence.

I had often been asked to address this issue, but until now I did not wish to share his opinion, mainly in order to avoid becoming involved in an electoral issue. However, since that vote is now in the past, and after having spoken directly with representatives of the three parties in the Legislative Assembly, I consider that it is my duty to provide the government with my opinion, as required by the Act.

Thus, as I state in my 2011-2012 Annual Report, I firmly believe that the position of French Language Services Commissioner should report directly to the Legislative Assembly. Here is the reason why.

From the beginning of my mandate, I have had a level of independence that honours the current Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. In fact, I have been granted the independence that I need to set up my office, to establish the limits of my mandate and for all other activities of my office.

However, all this could change dramatically at any moment if even a single person were to be replaced at the political or administrative level, for instance either the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs or the current Commissioner. This is because the position of Commissioner requires that this person have the ability, desire and necessary resolve to stay the course on the effective implementation of the French Language Services Act.

It is important, if not essential, for this person to be given the elbow room required to carry out his or her mandate. This means allowing the Commissioner to act on the basis of acquired knowledge, observations and independent thinking. The fact that one’s position relies upon the political ups and downs of the day does not provide the necessary independence to fully carry out one’s mandate.

To appreciate the fragile nature of a position that reports to a minister instead of a Parliament or the legislature there is no need to look very far. One should remember the episode at Statistics Canada last year, when the minister responsible for that federal agency quickly reminded everyone, including, and in particular, senior officials at that organization, that they reported to a minister and were not, in fact, independent, contrary to what many may have believed over several decades. The Chief Statistician at the time, it should be remembered, had to resign.

In the following weeks, I will go over other reasons that describe why it is crucial for the Commissioner to become independent.

Delays in Processing Complaints to the Commissioner’s Office

Yesterday evening I was in Rockland to attend the celebrations for the 15th anniversary of Retraite en action. I’d like to thank the organizers once again for inviting me. I really enjoyed my conversations with all those young (at heart) retirees, even though my return flight was cancelled, thanks to Sandy (I rented a car and drove back in the wee hours of the morning!).

At the event I met a complainant who said he was frustrated because he hadn’t heard anything about his complaint, except for an acknowledgement, in almost a year. Yet it was a relatively simple case, he said. In fact, I remembered the complaint, because I keep up to date on every one of them. The complainant told me it wasn’t worth the trouble for a citizen to complain to the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner.

While I understand the complainant’s position perfectly, I was sorry to hear that sort of comment and especially his doubts about the value of his complaint and, ultimately, the work of the Commissioner’s Office. I was sorry because, I can assure you, the FLSC team works harder than I’ve ever seen a government office work. But with just six people on the team, including me, and only two investigators, one of whom is also the office manager, it’s a Herculean task. And our very modest budget, always in danger of being chopped, doesn’t make things any easier.

We receive more than one complaint a day. Every day. That’s a lot when you look at our resources, but it’s not very many when you think of all the Franco-Ontarians out there and the number of dealings they have with the provincial government on a daily basis. In fact, despite our heavy workload, we’d like to receive more complaints, because that’s our bread and butter! We regard every complaint as direct quality control feedback on the government’s services.

It may take us some time to get back to you, I agree, but you’re clearly making a difference. There is absolutely no doubt that together we have made substantial progress in recent years in the delivery of French-language services. And it’s thanks to you, the complainants!

Please be patient and, most importantly, please keep telling us about failures to provide high-quality service in French. That’s the only way we can move forward. Slowly, perhaps, but surely. If we don’t hear about problems, we can’t do anything about them.

Impact of the Inclusive Definition of Francophone on Government Programs and Services


As I stated in yesterday’s blog post about Statistics Canada’s 2011 Census of Population (Linguistic Characteristics of Canadians and French and the francophonie in Canada), the Ontario government adopted a new Inclusive Definition of Francophone (IDF) in 2009. According to this new definition developed by the Office of Francophone Affairs, the Francophone population was of 582,690 people in 2006, or 4.8% of Ontario’s population.

We will get the final data of the 2011 census relating to the IDF only once these data will have been compiled by the Office of Francophone Affairs. This may take a few weeks and we are not expecting to get these new data before the month of December. Of course, it can be assumed that these data will be considerably higher than in 2006 given the growth of Ontario’s Francophone population, as defined by Statistics Canada.

In any event, there is no question that aside from the symbolism and the adjustment of population figures to include some 50,000 immigrants who are now considered to be Francophones, the adoption of the IDF has generated and even strengthened a sense of belonging to the Franco-Ontarian community.

Nevertheless, more than two years later, it is time to ask ourselves whether the new Inclusive Definition of Francophone has been understood and applied by all ministries and governmental organizations.

In my 2010-2011 Annual Report, I indicated that I would gather information to ensure that the IDF’s calculation method was being correctly applied by the Ontario Government and its service providers. This analysis would assess the definition’s impact on government programs and services. Thus, a number of questions have been submitted to the government regarding this matter.

The government has admitted that there is some inconsistency in the use of the new criteria to count the number of Francophones in the province, despite the adoption of the IDF. Certain ministries and their service providers do not appear to be making current and systematic use of the new criteria.

A case in point is the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. In 2010, my Office received a complaint on the issue of financial support for some Ontario Early Years Centres whose grants from the Ministry are based on the proportion of Francophone children served. The results of the investigation showed that the Ministry was using the old, non-inclusive definition to calculate grants, which was penalizing Early Years Centres that had seen an increase in Francophone newcomers, especially in areas that attract many immigrants, such as Toronto.

However, the government has informed my Office that a number of ministries are using the IDF to collect data and to monitor the level and quality of French-language services provided directly by them or via third parties. In addition, the Office of Francophone Affairs has pledged to develop a communications plan to increase awareness in the ministries regarding the use of the new definition as a common calculation method. The government has also stated its intention to convey this same message to designated agencies. But given that the action plan and timetable for implementing this initiative have yet to be determined, I intend to keep a close eye on the situation.

I invite you to consult my 2011-2012 Annual Report for more information about the IDF and the new face of Ontario’s Francophonie.

The 2011 Census: On the whole, Good News for Ontario’s Francophonie

Linguistic Characteristics of Canadians

French and the francophonie in Canada

This morning, the long-awaited results of the 2011 Census of Population: Linguistic Characteristics of Canadians and French and the francophonie in Canada were published by Statistics Canada.

I want to make it clear from the outset that the data are not based on Ontario’s Inclusive Definition of Francophone (IDF). However, data that take the IDF into account should be available from the Office of Francophone Affairs in the next few weeks.

The Census nevertheless provides us with some very interesting figures. First, even though Ontario’s total population tends to grow faster than the province’s Francophonie, since the 2006 Census, Ontario has seen an increase of more than 5% in the number of people whose mother tongue is French, a 6% increase in the number of people who use French most often at home, and an increase of almost 1% in the number of people whose first official language spoken is French.

Another piece of good news: the proportion of Ontarians whose mother tongue is French has remained steady at 4.4% since 2006. Again, I must point out that these data do not take account of the IDF; according to figures based on IDF, the Francophone population was 582,690, or 4.8% of the province’s population, in 2006.

I’d like to make it clear that, as indicated in The State of French-Second-Language Education in Canada, a report published in 2010 by Canadian Parents for French, allophone support for the linguistic duality remains particularly high, which shows that multiculturalism is not an “enemy” of the Francophonie. In particular, the report noted that 40% of allophone parents had enrolled their children in French immersion programs.

Overall, the data from the last census are positive for the Franco-Ontarian community and thus for Ontarian society. Nevertheless, it is a fact that for the overwhelming majority of newcomers, the only official language they know is English. That’s why I recommended that the Ontario government set up an advisory committee to guide the efforts of the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration related to the Francophone immigration file and use a consultative and interministerial approach to develop a strategy for welcoming Francophone newcomers, providing them with language training and integrating them into the labour market. For more on this subject, see Chapter 2 of my 2011-2012 Annual Report.

With the release of all these new data, I think it’s time to give you a more detailed explanation of how important the application of the IDF is in Ontario and in each of the government’s ministries and agencies. I’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Stay tuned.